Whoever it is, it’s not me
Sometimes, it’s Autism.
The girl behind the counter slides me my tray, the delicious scent of my burger and fries invading my senses. “Enjoy your meal.”
“Thanks, you too.”
Oh, God. I screw my eyes shut. I’ll think back on this moment for years to come, and the embarrassment will come flooding back.
I get the dreaded call, which I never understood. Why call those who don’t get the job? Just let me slink away into the darkness; no need to shout, “You’re slinking into the darkness” as I go. I’m fully aware already.
“I’m sorry to say you didn’t get the job. They felt you were a little distant. They couldn’t sense your excitement.”
So I curse my inability to make eye contact like a normal person, I curse my apathy that covers my empathy, and I curse some more for good measure because I like threes. And fives and any number that creates a natural middle point. If I text someone three emoji hearts, the middle one can be another color and voilá, you have a nice pattern.
Sometimes, it’s Him.
I fall to my knees and bow my head.
He plucks thoughts straight from my mind, molds them after his desires, and shoves them back in. A look, a smirk, a kiss, a tasty little slice of logic, a word that triggers, a touch, and then I’m spinning and spiraling with his sadistic mindplay.
“It’s okay, I’ll catch you afterward.”
I fall, tremble, and trip, out of control.
Sometimes, it’s Characters.
I could bang my head against a wall. I want them to go there, and they insist on going in the opposite direction. I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready; just obey me, you imaginary people, and they refuse. They go their own way. I write them as they wish, as they set the pace for them, never me. Never me.
“How’s the book coming along?” he asks, and I tell him to go away. Go away, go away, go away. I’m arguing, you see. I’m the one fighting with fictional characters because their minds are stronger than my own.
“I can’t argue logic, okay?” I snap. So I obey characters.
Clutching my head, fingers digging into my hair, I rock back and forth and try to summon the right voice. I need him to speak, but the noise from another heroine is louder. Write me, she demands, and I don’t have time. I’m sorry, but I need that guy behind you; please un-gag him. I need to write him.
“Will you make the deadline?” my editor wonders.
Lemonade & Lies
“What’s it like to be normal?”
“What’s it like being you?” I took a sip of my coffee and refolded the paper. My quiet morning on the porch steps took a hike whenever Pipsqueak joined me.
She glanced up at me with a scrunched nose, all freckles, sleep lines on her cheeks, and messy pigtails. “I asked you first. You’re a teacher. You’re supposed to answer and teach.”
I snorted and rested my elbows on my knees. Sun was about to come up. Soon, the dew covering the grass and bushes in my front yard would glisten with the first rays of sunshine.
“If a teacher never asked questions, there’d be no quizzes,” I pointed out.
“That would be cool.”
She was twelve or thirteen, this neighbor of mine. At times, her logic belonged to that of a genius. She had Autism and tended to put things in a perspective completely foreign to me. But then, she was also a kid. Kids didn’t like studying for tests and quizzes.
“I’m going somewhere with my question,” I said patiently.
She whipped her head to the left, then the right. “Where?”
I smirked briefly at her way of taking things literally. “Just answer, you nut. Or I’ll tell your parents you left the house in your PJs.”
She huffed. “Fine. It’s weird being me, okay? I don’t understand humans.”
I nodded. “Most people go through that. Screw what’s normal, Pipsqueak. Don’t worry about others. You do you.”
“You could’ve just said that…”
There was no winning with this little hurricane. She was extra persnickety this morning, too. New school, new teacher. It put her on edge and made her ramble.
“Never said I was a good teacher, did I?” I emptied my coffee mug and checked the time. Summer was officially over. I had a week of faculty meetings, and then I’d be seeing new seniors. New students whose lives were just waiting to be fucked over.
“Do you have to go?” she asked.
“Soon. I might give myself a late start today.”
That made her sigh. “I can’t wait to grow up so I can do what I want.”
What could I say? The girl was in for a rude awakening. One day, those emerald green peepers of hers that were constantly filled with curiosity and wonder would dim and cloud with the shit life brought. She would grow up and lose her innocence. No longer a girl… Along the way, she’d lose her honesty, too. It was what women did.
“You know what I’ve noticed?” She turned to me, a serious expression on her face. “You never smile, mister. Not even today, and—and, and, it’s your birthday!” She tripped over her words. “I almost forgot. Happy birthday. How old are you now? Oh! Let me guess, please?”
I couldn’t even fake a smile. The times she dropped those tidbits of genuine reflection or observation, it felt like she was kicking me in the gut. Of course I never smiled. I had nothing to smile about. She’d learn one day. Or she’d meet a man who would get a taste of it. Perhaps she’d make her future son feel it. It…being this hollow void that somehow weighed a ton and dragged you down.
“Are you thirty?” she guessed.
I nodded. “Good guess.”
She snickered. “I remember you turned twenty-nine last year.”
Right. Well, it was time to face another hellish day.
“Do it,” I whispered.
I sucked in a breath and pressed the barrel to my temple.
Do it, do it, do it.
My reflection in the bathroom mirror caused my hand to tremble, and I promptly screwed my eyes shut. This could all be over if I only had the balls to pull the trigger. History would be wiped clean. I’d feel no more hatred. I would be gone. Erased. Would I find peace? Or would I just…fade into nothingness?
Do it, do it, do it.
A rushing sound thundered in my ears. My throat closed up. Fuck—it would be over. Wasn’t that what I’d craved for as long as I could remember? The rage wasn’t even the worst of it. This sense of confusion and loss, being lost, constantly wondering, was what I couldn’t live with. I didn’t fucking understand myself. I didn’t know who I was other than a box of crippling emotions. I had no identity.
You never smile, mister.
“You coward.” My eyes burned behind closed lids. “It would be over.” I tensed up as I brushed my finger over the trigger. “Do it.” You’re almost there.
But what if…
A strangled sound escaped me, and a tear rolled down my cheek.
I was caving.
You never smile, mister.
Two knocks on the door were followed by my wife’s voice. “Are you almost done? I have to shower.”
The air was knocked out of my lungs in defeat. Lowering my hand, I opened my eyes again and stared at my pathetic reflection. What was wrong with me? I clenched my jaw. Hating, hating, hating. It felt like I’d run a marathon.
“Yeah.” Exhaustion took over. Today wasn’t the day I killed myself, either. “Be right out.” The gun went back in the cupboard under the sink. It was time to get ready. A new day. I was driving down to Seattle for my monthly visit with my mother.
The blows kept on fucking coming. I dodged left, only to get a knee in the gut. Then I ducked right, and he was on me like a freight train. Jesus. I coughed, pain radiating from my ribcage.
“Pussy.” Darius grinned.
Wiping my forehead, I jumped up again and charged. Sweat poured down and caused my beater to stick to my skin. I welcomed each punch and did everything I could to return them.
I succeeded sometimes.
“Motherfucker.” He chuckled through a groan when I managed to jab him twice in the face. “You’re a good brawler, I'll give ya that. Bad day?”
“You could say that.”
I gnashed my teeth together.
“I don’t know why you keep coming here.”
Funny, I'd been asking myself that question for years. Leaving the doorway, I entered my mother’s room and eyed the new bed. The sicker she became, the more her home looked like a hospital room. According to her nurse, she couldn’t leave the bed on her own anymore. My mother was frail, and she pulled off seventy-five great for a fifty-six-year-old.
One of the two chairs by the window had been removed so she could sit there in her wheelchair instead. The round little table in the middle was littered with books and notes. As I took a seat across from her, I watched her highlight a paragraph in an old senator’s memoir.
“Imbeciles,” she muttered. “Seven typos in two hundred and sixty pages.” Glasses perched on her nose and a bag of lemon-flavored hard candy on her lap was a familiar sight that made my skin crawl. Then, everything about her made my skin crawl.
I wanted her to die.
Because of her, my upper body was covered in tattoos to hide the scars she’d given me.
I hissed and flew back, Darius’s gloved hand splitting my bottom lip open.
“I have work tomorrow,” I barked. Explaining a busted lip wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
He laughed, out of breath, and we took a break to get some water. “You’re something else, man. You’re shit at technique, but damn, you keep getting up.”
I leaned back against the ropes in the boxing ring and reached for my towel. I wasn’t bleeding too much.
When you’d been born on a battlefield, suffering was as natural as breathing. Darius’s uppercut, no matter how hard he delivered it, was nothing.
“You’re like a dog, Avery,” my mother noted. “Regardless of what I do, you’ll come crawling back. You need a leader to follow because you’re too weak to stand on your own.”
I stared at her, forcing a casual expression. The fury I carried for this woman was putrid and all-consuming, and it was slowly suffocating me. Yet, I did come back. Every goddamn month, I drove down to Seattle to see her.
I didn’t say much when I was here. Was there anything to say? She wasn’t going to wake up one morning and realize what she’d done. By the sound of things, she already knew. Either she lacked empathy for it, or she’d made sense of it in a way that absolved her from guilt.
“Good morning!” Pipsqueak closed the gate after her and trailed up the path to my house.
I eyed her, tired as hell. “Morning.”
The past few days, her mood had improved to the point where she was chirpy. I assumed school was going well.
She plopped down next to me and opened a bottle of lemonade. “Nana and I made this. Want some? It’s strawberry and pineapple.”
“No, thank you.” Fanning out the paper next to me, I studied the headlines. Getting back to work and keeping myself updated helped me focus and rid the remnants of the ever-present nightmares. There’s a good one. An article about Rupert Murdoch’s million-dollar contribution to the Republicans should kick off my communication studies class nicely today. I dog-eared the page after reading the piece and moved on.
“Why do people lie?”
I frowned, giving her my attention. “Who’s lying?”
“My uncle,” she replied frankly. “Mom says he’s lying to my aunt about something. They’re all sad.”
I had to admit I enjoyed it when Pipsqueak came over sometimes. It was strangely easy to talk to a kid, but to give her advice she might carry with her into adulthood was fucking terrifying. I couldn’t go there.
I could say one thing, though. “Don’t rush to grow up. Adults are ten times worse than children.” I pointed to her bottle. “Stick to dolls, school, and making lemonade with your grandmother. Because when you’re a grownup, all that is gone.”
And you were left with the thieves, abusers, cheaters, and liars.
They’d turned me into one who was just like them.
Title: Lemonade & Lies
Genre: Contemporary fiction/romance.
Age range: 18+
Word count: Work-in-progress.
Author name: Cara Dee
Why your project is a good fit: It targets a wide audience in which I'm confident about my abilities.
Synopsis: Work-in-progress, but it will be a novel about redemption, friendship, forgiveness, betrayal, love, and making peace when you can't find it.
Your bio: The full version at www.caradeewrites.com
Experience: Five years in indie publishing.
Personality/writing style: Straightforward, realistic, sometimes witty, always with as much focus on the plot as the characters.
It's always out of reach. Topics and interests I burn for consume me. I disappear and get lost in people, stories, and fields. I can never split my time, because then, I'd be dividing my attention. You either have it or you don't. From me, you'll get everything or nothing. So balance will always be out of reach.
Before We’re Certain
Underneath the stars and dust clouds of the Milky Way, he left his comfort zone and pushed me toward insanity. This wasn't supposed to happen. The first kiss turned me into his secret, and I was powerless to stop it. Weak, greedy, hard as a fucking rock.
"Did you hit your head?" I sucked in a breath, trembling beneath him. "You know I'm not a woman, right?"
I was the funny guy. Comedy brought smiles to people's faces and concealed my loneliness. Now my jokes were going to fall flat, because this bastard was breaking me down.
"Mm. Very aware." He deepened the kiss.
With the fingers he touched my jaw, there was a wedding ring that warned me about how badly this could turn out. He's heading for divorce, my weakness pleaded with me. Nothing's for certain, my brain argued before it short circuited.
"More." I groaned and gave up.
~Casey, Uncomplicated Choices.
Push my buttons
Actually, don't. I bite. But there are other buttons I like, and since I'm slightly OCD about certain things, I need them to match. I couldn't find a Prose button for my website, so I was forced to make one. Look what you did, Prose; you forced me to do something. Ugh.
I got my buttons now, though.
Dancing With Death
"Dance with me." The man extends his hand.
With a blush, the girl looks away from the breathtaking view of the city, and she lets him sweep her off her feet. They dance in the darkness of the mountains to a song that goes unheard. She can't place him, but she's seen him before. She's certain of it.
"Something's troubling you," he murmurs.
She nods, peering up at him. "Who are you?"
He smirks faintly. A knowing twist of his lips. He knows something she doesn't. Is that it? He knows what's troubling her. As of late, she keeps seeing destruction everywhere. Disease, death. It's in what people eat, the air they breathe, the political matters on which they vote, the water they drink, and in every indulgence.
"We're destroying ourselves," she says quietly. "We're dying."
He twirls her once, then brings her close to his body. "Are you destroying yourself?"
The girl averts her eyes, biting her lip. Is she? She's doing her best to quit her vices, but maybe the progress is too slow. Life makes her happy, and she wants to do everything in her power to enjoy the little time she has on this planet. A trickle of anxiousness seeps in, and she vows to work harder. Life is too short.
"I'm trying not to," is her honest answer.
"That's a good girl." The man sways them gently. "But you should know, my dear." He presses a kiss to her temple. "Death...will always dance with life."
Living Life Like This
His hands covered my eyes. "No peeking." The grin in his voice made me smile, and I bit my lip. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah." I swallowed my nervous butterflies. The wind was Irish, strong and unpredictable. I'd waited for this. I'd read about this. I'd seen…more photos than I could count.
Then I got to experience it with my own eyes as his hands fell away, and it was breathtaking and scary and exhilarating and, and, and I couldn’t find my words. We're so small. The expansive cliffs shot up from the ocean, the sight sucking the air from my lungs. Grassy hills so green that my senses needed time to adjust. My body did the talking. Tears welled up, and my grin was so wide.
Cliffs of Moher.
Far, far below, the waves were crashing soundlessly against the cliff walls. The wind whooshed back and forth, sending my hair flying in every direction. It was love at first sight. Struck mute and unable to contain my emotions, I let out a happy squeal behind my hands, and I stiffened from sheer excitement.
He was watching me with a knowing smile. "Come here." He hugged me to him, a warm and tight squeeze. "You see now?"
I nodded, remembering his words.
"Living life like this…you live the words you read. Travel to learn, learn so you can understand, experience so you can share the story and do it justice. Don't spend your entire life working on one chapter."
Beginning of Destruction
Pushing past gaggles of Valley girls, musicians, and their entourages, I found the lawn mostly empty of rich partygoers. The terrace was full, as were the pool and the hot tub. Everyone was having an awesome time. So was I.
A smile graced my lips, and I held out my arms and tilted my face up. I danced and danced and danced, and then spun around until laughter broke free, until the bright colors were back.
This is how life is supposed to be.
The massive garden was bathed in joy, and I lost my balance while trying to strip off my denim overall shorts. One strap got free before I landed in the soft grass.
My fingers played on invisible piano keys in front of me, the night sky as the only background. Black and blue against purple and orange. The lights of LA painted a spectacle in the smog.
Keep the nightmares away from me, Mr. Smog.
I giggled at myself.
"Hey. Tiny dancer."
I turned my head, a piece of grass tickling my ear, and I smiled. "That’s a good song."
Hands down the pockets of his black, faded jeans, he stared at me with amusement in his eyes, looking like some rock star. I admired the ink covering his arms. He had some on his neck too, where it met dark, short, unkempt hair. Hottie.
I stopped playing piano in the heavens. "Hi."
He did this little twist with his lips, like he wanted to smirk but decided against it. "Hey."
"Have you heard the legend of why there aren't any stars in LA?" I asked.
He sat down next to me and lit a cigarette. "Nope. Let's hear it."
I closed my eyes and grinned. "The legend goes, for every star that’s born in the movie and music industry, a star in the sky dies. At some point, there were too many stars in Hollywood, so now the sky is mourning. There are no real stars left."
He chuckled, a low and warm sound. "You made that shit up."
"As if!" I beamed back at him, and the patio lights hit me right there. It turned him into a silhouette. "Okay, I did. Was it believable?"
"Not for someone who's sober."
"Why are you sober?"
"I just got here. My buddies were talking about you, so I figured I'd do you a solid and advise you to stay away."
"That’s nice of you. Are they assholes?"
He laughed under his breath and shrugged. "Mikey has a thing for semiconscious girls."
Hmm. Asshole, then.
The man looked familiar, though I could be mixing him up with someone else. I left parties to find the next one these days. Too many faces. It was better that way. No one to remember.
"Are you famous?" I wondered.
He lifted a shoulder. "I play guitar in Destruction."
In other words, he was huge. The party was a sendoff for Path of Destruction, a good-luck and a slap on the ass for a good tour. If I wasn't mistaken, they'd just had their first concert before this party.
I nodded and turned toward the sky again. "Good for you, fortunate son."
Get the reference.
"I'm not going off to war."
"Neither was the fortunate son." I smiled. The rock star gave me a bit of hope this lovely evening. Good music was getting lost in the sea of post-grunge and bubblegum pop.
"Touché." He was amused again. "Fan of Creedence?"
"Fan of anything that isn't played here, basically." The colors were fading, indicating my buzz was about to say goodbye. That made me sad. It meant I had to face reality, and I couldn’t do that. "One might think a party for rock stars would play better music."
I needed my escapes. A constant string of them.
I threw the rock star a glance and bit my lip. He probably had all the access…
"Can I come with you?" I asked casually. "On tour, I mean. When are you leaving, again?"
I had nothing to my name except a backpack I kept at a friend's place. I could leave in an hour.
The surprised look on his face was priceless. This could be fun. For me—maybe not for him, and if he wasn’t tempted, I'd have to crank it up a notch. Because the more I thought about it, the more I itched for this to happen. Who knew, perhaps getting away from LA would fix me.
Men like it when you don't want it.
"I mean, I wouldn’t sleep with you," I tossed out flippantly.
Lying through my teeth.
That crashed and burned. He didn’t see a challenge. "Don't worry, I don’t fuck twelve-year-olds."
"Ouch." Except, it didn’t hurt at all. "I'm eighteen, numbnuts." I sat up in the grass, my hair spilling down my front. "What about you, Gramps?"
"What's this, Twenty Questions?" he drawled. "I'm twenty-nine, and do you know what's expected of chicks who—scratch that. Do you even know what to do with a cock?"
"I suck it like a lollipop." I showed my palms, a lazy grin on my face. "Sorry, no virtue to protect."
He merely laughed, and I bit my lip and scrunched my nose.
So…? Was he gonna let me tag along? A girl had to know.
"What's your name?" he asked.
He nodded and stood up. "The bus will be at the Beverly Wilshire. In the unlikelihood that you don't change your mind, be there at seven AM and ask for Lincoln. Your name will be on the list."
He started walking away while I did a little shimmy in the grass. Fuck yes, I was going on tour. More importantly, I was leaving the West Coast! That made me giggle, but I stopped when I had another question.
"Who's Lincoln?" I called after him.
He flicked his cigarette into the pool. "The guy whose cock you'll suck like a lollipop."
A Slow Death
"You don't care at all?" she wondered aloud.
I reached over to the nightstand and grabbed my smokes. "Do you?"
She was young. Too young to be in a cheap motel room with me, too young to be dirtied up by an impassive teacher. Her teacher. "I'm eighteen now," she'd written on a note once. A couple weeks later, we were fucking.
I probably would've pursued her quicker if I hadn't been off to get married.
"I guess not." She rose from the bed, naked as the day she was born, and swiped a finger over the broken TV in the corner.
I caught the way her nose wrinkled when her digit came up dusty. She was…cute. Beautiful, even. Perky. I had a thing for brunettes with green eyes, even when they were lifeless like hers.
She turned on me and cocked her head. "Are you curious about me?"
No, not really.
I heard enough through the grapevine to know she'd lost her parents shortly before she wrote me that note in class. I knew she lived with an aunt she detested. I knew she couldn’t wait to leave our town and go to college. I also knew she didn’t have the grades for it.
I was her…rebellious phase, I supposed. Her way of mourning.
She smirked. "Never mind."
I patted the empty spot next to me and took a drag from my smoke. "Kiss me."
So she did.
Another missed call from my brother. For not being on speaking terms, he called often enough. I wished he wouldn’t. There was nothing to say.
"Morning, babe." My wife was awfully dolled up this morning. She waltzed into the kitchen and headed straight for the coffeemaker, while I hoped for my bank statement's sake she'd get a job soon. Fingers crossed for today's interviews.
"Good morning." I returned my gaze to my phone, my thumb brushing over the button that could block my brother's number. It should be easy, except it wasn’t. Goddammit. I pinched the bridge of my nose, memories cracking down like thunder.
"Not all of it, baby bro. Mom will know if we eat too much." We were once best friends. I was two minutes older, something I used to love pointing out. "But I'm hungry, Avery…" As the eldest, I'd taken it upon myself to look after him. "I'll find something tomorrow in school. Come on, let's get back to bed."
I couldn’t look after him anymore. Scratch that—I couldn’t look at him, period. Sometimes, history was best left buried.
"We should have dinner at that place tonight—what's it called?" She could never fucking remember.
"Castellano's," I sighed. "Sure. I can meet you there at seven." I had a faculty meeting I couldn’t blow off.
The walls of the cheap motel room were becoming all too familiar. I ached, tension building up, and went faster. Harder. I chased something, and it was more than a quick release. Which never worked. A quick release was all I received ten minutes later when I drove in deep and emptied myself in a girl who should be at home doing her homework.
I collapsed on the mattress, my heart racing.
My God, what she lacked in the classroom she made up for in spades in the bedroom.
"Holy shit," she panted.
I lit up a smoke, waiting for my breathing to even out. "Yeah."
My phone dinged with a message.
Where are you?
Squinting at the screen, I noticed it was ten minutes past seven. I replied, saying I was going to be late, and then I turned off the sound and brought the ashtray to the middle of the bed.
"Shouldn’t you be on your way?" She pulled the sheets higher and turned on her side. Her hair was fanned out across the pillow, and I found myself reaching out, twisting a silky wave of rich brown between my fingers. She giggled. "You really are a dick, aren't you?"
"Mm." I hoped she wouldn’t forget it, either. "Says a thing or two about you being here, too."
Her amusement faded. "I know." Taking the sheets with her, she sat up, looking too troubled. I supposed our moment was over, so I let my head hit the pillow again, and I stared at the ceiling. "I get this rock in my stomach when I think of things I have to do."
I hummed noncommittally and blew out a couple smoke rings, vaguely remembering my own rock. How it tightened my stomach and gave me anxiety. It'd been a while.
"Then I give up and text you instead," she mumbled. "What's wrong with me?"
So I was an escape. Made sense.
"I don't know what to do, Mr. Becker."
I frowned and tossed her a brief look. "I think it's safe to say you can call me Avery at this point."
She sighed and plopped down on the mattress once more. "What I'm doing now just feels like dying a very slow death."
"Isn't that what life is?"
"Depressing," she noted. "No…life is supposed to be full of happiness, mistakes, lessons learned, and exploring."
I rubbed at a faint twinge in my chest. Had I ever believed life was about those things? No. Life was about taking shit—and then spending the rest of your sorry days hurting the wrong people because it was the only thing that temporarily stilled the rattling box of despair at the back of your mind.
I blew out a breath, exhausted.
There was hope for the girl.
I was going to die a slow death and be missed by no one.
"I wouldn’t mind exploring a certain place between your thighs." I put out my smoke, figuring it was at least partly true. I was getting hooked on this girl's body. But I knew, most of all, I just needed her to shut the fuck up. I couldn’t afford a rude awakening or the longing it would bring. Those days were over.
When she didn’t answer, I faced her. Curious.
She bit her lip. The hesitation was written all over her, and I wondered if this was it.
I offered her my lazy grin, my chest constricting. "Kiss me."
This time, she didn’t.
She wasn’t going to die a slow death.
To be extended and continued.
Written by Cara Dee
Writey person of the Aftermath Novels, Camassia Cove Series, Touch, and more.